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ZSU-23-4M/MZ

Hong 1/35 ZSU-23-4M/MZ Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review December 2015 Manufacturer Hong Model
Subject ZSU-23-4M/MZ Scale 1/35
Kit Number 5001 Primary Media Styrene, Photo-Etch
Pros New tool Cons See text
Skill Level Experienced MSRP (USD) $53.98 (approx)

First Look

ZSU-23-4M/MZ
ZSU-23-4M/MZ
ZSU-23-4M/MZ
ZSU-23-4M/MZ

The Russians have a long memory. Their country has been invaded, occupied, and ransacked numerous times over the last two thousand years. After the Great Patriotic War (World War II), the Soviet government took steps to shield Russia from any further incursions and to apply the lessons learned from expelling the Germans from their territory. One significant lesson learned was the need for air defense, in fact a multi-tiered air defense. Soviet military architects devised a combination of fixed gun installations to protect strategic targets and mobile guns to protect the ground armies. The air defense forces (PVO) were likewise divided to provide fighter/interceptor coverage over the homeland and over the troops.

As radar and missile technology advanced, these capabilities were woven into the air defense umbrella with great success. The one weakness in their umbrella was on the front lines. Attacking aircraft could fly below the minimum altitudes of the surface-to-air missiles and pop-up inside their minimum effective range and destroy the missile site. Existing mobile guns like the ZSU-57-2 and the towed guns of various calibers were usually optically aimed and not effective in small numbers. Enter the ZSU-23-4.

The ZSU (Z - anti-aircraft, S - self-propelled, U - gun mount) 23 (23mm guns) 4 (four guns) is based upon the (relatively) light weight ASU-85 chassis and designed for providing tactical air defense near the leading edge of the battle. The system is self-contained with its own search/track radar (Gun Dish) and its deadly quad array of 23mm cannons with a rate of fire of 800-1000 rounds per minute per barrel. As the Israelis discovered during the Yom Kippur war in 1973, you’re pretty much screwed if you fly into the kill zone of this formidable gun system.

In Soviet ground forces (and those of the Warsaw Pact), the ZSU-23-4 was not employed by itself since it wouldn’t take much to pickle a Mk.82 onto the vehicle from outside the gun system’s maximum range. Soviet air defense architects wisely paired the ZSU-23-4 up with the SA-9 Gaskin, so that an air raider cannot engage one without being engaged by the other. Of course, if that same air raider attempted to smite the ZSU-23-4 and SA-9 from above the SA-9’s effective range, the aircraft would be deep inside the kill zones of many other more dangerous SAM systems. There was something to be said for tiered air defense! As technology advanced, the SA-9 was replaced by the SA-13 Gopher, but the ZSU-23-4 soldiered on. Today, the ZSU-23-4 and SA-13 are being replaced by the 2S6, which is a more modern radar-directed gun system like the ZSU, but also carries SA-19 missile canisters replacing the need for the separate SA-9/SA-13 vehicles.

Hong Model is a new hobby company that chose an interesting subject as its launch kit - the ZSU-23-4M/MZ. The only other option for this subject is the DML kit which has been around for over a decade and represents either the earlier ZSU-23-4V1 Shilka or later ZSU-23-4M Beryoza. This Hong kit offers the ZSU-23-4M as well as the ZSU-23-4MZ which adds the IFF interrogator details to the 'Gun Dish' radar face. The kit is molded in olive green styrene and presented on seven parts trees plus upper and lower hull halves and turret shell, four trees molded in tan styrene, one tree molded in clear styrene, and one fret of photo-etched parts. Among the features and options in this kit:

  • Detailed lower hull and suspension
  • Individual track links
  • Detailed upper hull
  • Photo-etched engine grilles
  • Details differences for ZSU-23-4M and ZSU-23-4MZ variants
  • Detailed 23mm guns
  • Positionable ammo tray covers
  • Empty ammo trays under the covers
  • Detailed RPK-2 (Gun Dish) radar
  • Detail differences for ZSU-23-4M and ZSU-23-4MZ variants

When I had read the announcement of this kit several months ago, I couldn't wait to get my hands on one. I have the DML kit waiting its turn on the bench, but it was going to take lots of aftermarket stuff to bring the kit up to my requirements. Before we go there, let's look at the top-level differences between the DML and Hong kits:

ZSU-23-4M/MZ

As I mentioned above, the green parts are the Hong kit while the light gray parts are from the DML kit. You can see that the Hong kit is definitely not a copy of the DML kit and there are some differences in detail between the two kits. I'll leave it to 'Cookie' Sewell, who scratch-built the first 1/35 ZSU-23-4 model many decades ago which served as the starting point for DML's kit, to decide which kits are more accurate.

First, the things I like about the Hong kit:

  • Captures small details and updates added to the vehicle since the DML kit was produced

What I like about the DML kit:

  • One piece track links (and there are aftermarket options for track links and road wheels available)

What I don't care for in the Hong kit:

  • Individual track links are three parts per link (track and two teeth each)
  • Empty ammo trays with no parts inserts for ammunition loads
  • No provision to pose the Gun Dish radar stowed

What I don't care for in the Hong or DML kits:

  • Driver's hatch is positionable but nothing inside the hull
  • Gun crew hatches positionable on the turret but nothing inside the turret

The MSRP of the Hong kit is roughly $54.00 USD when ordered from overseas (I don't know what pricing will look like when it is available in North America). The MSRP of the DML kit is roughly the same price though street prices are lower and it has been around long enough that swap prices are much lower than that.

Meng has also announced the ZSU-23-4 in 1/35 scale due out soon and while prices haven't been announced:

  • It does have a detailed driver's compartment
  • The ammo trays look like they're populated though it is hard to tell from their CAD images
  • The radar antenna can be posed up or stowed
  • It has individual track links which appear to be single-piece
  • Still no turret interior

If you have the DML kit, I would pass on the Hong kit and see what the final Meng kit(s) bring to the table. If you don't, I would still wait for the Meng kit. Since I pre-ordered this Hong kit and I have the DML kit and the aftermarket interior sets for the DML kit, I'll bash the two of these together to get the model that I want.

There will also be a surplus of DML kits available soon which provides an interesting opportunity to build some of the derivative vehicles that have been fielded including the ZSU-23-4M2 which replaced the radar system with night vision and doubled ammunition storage to use the vehicle in counter-insurgency in Afghanistan or the ZSU-23-4MP that also removed the radar and added four SAM missiles in containers for greater target engagement versatility.

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